By Jeremy P. Meyer | The Denver Post
April 24, 2010
The Senate Education Committee on Friday advanced a controversial bill to change the way teachers are evaluated and how they receive and keep tenure.
But the 7-1 committee vote is no guarantee that Senate Bill 191, even with the amendments made Friday, will survive to link teacher tenure to student academic achievement.
"There is good and bad here," said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who voted for the bill. "It's a difficult vote. I think the full Senate should have a debate about this bill. There's a lot more to this bill than anyone has talked about."
The Senate committee added several amendments to the bill, including lengthening the time of implementation to three years from one; giving nonprobationary teachers a chance to appeal ineffective evaluations to the superintendent; and making the Governor's Council on Educator Effectiveness a legislative committee.
Teachers won't be held to the same expectations for academic growth if their classrooms have "diverse factors." These factors may include student populations that are highly mobile or classrooms in which 95 percent of the students are considered "high-risk" or students who have special-education needs.
Education reformers say the bipartisan Senate bill co-sponsored by Sens. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, could help Colorado win the second round of the federal Race to the Top education grant competition, in which the state is vying for up to $175 million.
Proponents say the bill could help Colorado conquer some of its most vexing education problems — the yawning achievement gap between races, a persistent dropout rate, and a dismal 50 percent graduation rate in urban districts.
"I don't think it's right to hook that much hope on this one bill," Steadman cautioned. "I've called this bill a leap of faith."
The Colorado Education Association — the state's largest union, with 40,000 members — has campaigned against the legislation, saying the bill is an unfunded mandate, warps the due-process system for tenured teachers and gives too much weight to standardized tests.
Several hundred union members gathered on the west steps of the Capitol on a rainy Friday morning to protest the bill before debate began.
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, who warned the bill is too costly, was the only committee member to vote "no."
"We don't have any idea how much funding is necessary to create all these formative and interim assessments in every single course area," she said.
Hudak, a former teacher, argued that if the bill is meant to weed out bad teachers, then it should be about improving the state's dismissal process. "I don't think this focuses on what the problem is."
Hudak said tremendous research exists that says the best way to improve teaching is through professional development, coaching and time for collaboration.
"If it is a true teacher-effectiveness bill, then it should be providing for those things," she said.
Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367 or firstname.lastname@example.org